by Del Tackett
In one of my favorite texts, Isaiah cries out in anguish, “Woe is me, I am undone! For I am a man of unclean lips…” His cry does not come because God has verbally chastised or rebuked him for his failures, but simply because Isaiah has come into the presence of a Holy God. When this happens, you and I are exposed. No matter how good we think we are nor how good we are at pretending or faking it or wearing a mask, the pure holiness of His being strips us naked and leaves us totally exposed before Him.
Of all the attributes of God, this is the one that overwhelms us simply by being in its presence. It is not an act of God that does this, or any speech from His mouth that shakes us to our very core. It is finding ourselves in the mere presence of pure, infinite holiness that buckles our knees and causes us to cry “Woe is me!”
It is for this reason that Adam, who had before walked with God, was now ashamed, hiding from His presence, lest he be openly exposed in his new depravity before God’s holiness.
It is why Moses was told to take off his sandals, for he was standing upon holy ground because of the presence of God.
It is why the tabernacle and the temple were both built at the specification of God with a Holy of Holies in which only the high priest could enter, once a year, and then only after significant cleansing.
It is a fearful thing, indeed, to come into the presence of a holy God.
Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. Revelation 15:4
In a culture that daily shakes its face in the face of God and increasingly flaunts its unholiness before Him, it is a wonder that He doesn’t evaporate us all.
Behold… the patience and grace of God! For there will arrive a day when the Holy One will stand and the world will not. Judgment will eventually come, and it will come because He is absolutely Holy.
Our movie industry takes great pains now to make sure that all heroes are portrayed with some sort of dark side… creating in us a deeper and deeper distrust of each other. But in God there is no darkness… at all. He is pure holiness in all His attributes and all of His ways. The fear of God does not come because He has a “dark” side, but because He is totally pure; completely and immutably holy.
And we are not.
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord Almighty.” This is the cry of the seraphs in His presence. And after declaring this the doorposts shook and the temple filled with smoke. Understandably, Isaiah then cries, “Woe is me!” Because it is the holiness of God that exposed Isaiah’s unholiness and the unholy cannot dwell in the presence of pure holiness.
But this brings us to the good news! And, one might even say, impossible news!
God has made it possible for the unholy to become righteous in His sight. His sacrifice tore a path through the veil that separated fallen man from the presence of God. Clothed now with the righteousness of Christ, we come boldly before the throne. Not because of our righteousness, which is no righteousness at all, but because of His righteousness.
We wear a robe that cannot be earned. The holiness of God can’t be reached by any amount of good works. In comparison to His infinite holiness, our efforts are but filthy rags in His sight. No, the robe we wear is not earned. It is placed upon us by the unmerited grace of God. Only then can we, dare we, stand in the presence of “Our Father, who art in heaven. Holy is your name.”
Verses to ponder throughout the week:
“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? Exodus 15:11
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Habakkuk 1:13
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. Revelation 15:4
God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 6:1-5
“Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:4-6
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6
Sing praise to the Lord, you His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name. Psalm 30:4
Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His footstool; Holy is He. Psalm 99:5
The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does. Psalm 145:17